Intersections of Arab American and Asian American Literature
- Carol W.N. FaddaCarol W.N. FaddaDepartment of English, Syracuse University
The interconnections between Asian American and Arab American studies are deep and long-standing, with scholars and activists in both these intersecting fields affirming their common investments in anti-racist, anti-imperial, transnational, and coalitional feminist frameworks. Various scholars have even called for Arab Americans to be included under a broader definition of Asian American identities. An intersectional study of the forms of alliances and solidarities developing among these racialized communities becomes a cornerstone for combating the effects of racism, orientalism, imperialism, and xenophobia, as well as enactments of occupation, exclusions, internment, and incarceration carried out by the projects of colonialism and empire within the United States and abroad. Even while being shaped by the specificities of geographical, historical, and political contexts, Arab American literature showcases an array of thematic foci and engagements that link it to other ethnic literary traditions, including Asian American literature. Such thematic connections extend to engagements with cultural and transnational in-betweenness, collective and individual marginalization and racialization, wars and conflicts in original home countries and their effects on US diasporic identities, transnational connections and movement across borders, food and cultural memory, language, gender roles, heritage, and religious expression, to name but a few. The literary output of Arab American and Asian American writers from the 19th century up till the early 21st century closely reflects the factors that shape Arab and Asian experiences in the United States and the conditions that shape the affective, material, legal, and political lives of immigrant and diasporic communities. The viewpoints, experiences, and perspectives presented in the works of Arab American and Asian American writers, however, are far from uniform. They are widely varied, encompassing different immigration pathways, histories, struggles, military and geopolitical conflicts, literary lineages, and artistic investments.
Different identity groupings and coalitions have emphasized the connections as well as the distinct experiences among Arabs, Muslims, and Asians in the United States and abroad, particularly in light of the post-9/11 modes of discrimination, surveillance, and imprisonment enforced on these communities. These groupings and coalitions include, for instance, AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian), MASA (Muslim, Arab, South Asian), SWANA (South West Asia and North African), and AMSA (Arab, Muslim and South Asian). Such collectives, based on religious, geographic, national, and political connections, developed in response to the post-9/11 backlash against these communities, which were deemed as a threatening and foreign presence. Despite the inevitable limitations of each of these coalitional groupings, in the critical political and historical post-9/11 moment an intersectional study of the forms of alliances and solidarities developing among various racialized communities becomes a cornerstone for combating the effects of racism, Orientalism, imperialism, and xenophobia, as specifically manifested in racial and “political profiling.”1 But the solidarities/connections among racialized minorities that formulate the basis of an intersectional analysis well precede the post-9/11 period and its politics of exceptionalism. The development of Asian American studies in the 1960s and 1970s in light of the civil rights movement coincides with the foregrounding of pan-Arabism in Arab American communities in the context of Nasserism and the Six-Day War between Israel and Arab countries in 1967, as well as the struggles of Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans during that same period.2 Such cross-racial solidarities and analytics have continued into the early 21st century, characterized by a continued urgency to combat police brutality and violence against racialized communities within the United States, as well as militarized foreign policies and never-ending wars abroad, all while challenging the logics that pit these racialized communities against each other through the regulatory discourse of model minorities and assimilative citizenships.
The fields of Arab American and Muslim American studies have grown exponentially since 9/11 in light of the urgent need for critiques of US exceptionalism and empire. Scholars in these disciplines increasingly recognize the dangers of circumscribing such critiques to the post-9/11 period. They also recognize the benefits of placing their fields in conversation with each other (as well as in relation to other aspects of minority studies), not merely to rectify the constant collapsing of Muslim and Arab identities, but to underscore the interconnections and differences between and among these identity categories, which have been racialized in similar ways. Such calls to place these specific fields of minority studies in conversation with each other address the overlapping terrains of Arab American and Asian American studies. Sunaina Maira and Magid Shihade assert that “the conjuncture between Asian/Arab American studies helps to situate U.S. empire in a much longer historical trajectory that links movements in, and out of, Asia and the Middle East,”3 while Nadine Naber asserts that “the aftermath of September 11th expanded the possibilities for coalition building among activists engaged in homeland struggles in the diaspora (such as Palestinian or Filipino liberation). Yet this period also affirmed historical polarizations of class, religion, and citizenship, particularly among communities targeted by 9/11-related bias, hate violence, and governmental policies.”4 More recently, the special issue of Amerasia on “Arab/Americas: Locations & Iterations” emphasizes how “Arabness is configured at different times and in different places across the Americas as well as in relation to the category of ‘Asian American.’”5
Of paramount importance is the need to bridge the divide between ethnic studies and area studies in order to situate the study of minoritized and racialized communities such as Asians, Muslims, and Arabs beyond restrictive national frameworks. This work underscores critical global and transnational approaches as well as radical methods of inquiry that supersede limited cross-racial comparisons. Doing so foregrounds various scholarly, institutional, and pedagogical issues that should be further pursued in studying the interconnections among Asian, Muslim, and Arab racial formations that acknowledge the common histories of orientalism, as well as enactments of occupation, exclusions, internment, and incarceration carried out by the projects of colonialism, racism, and empire within the United States and abroad.
The issue of Palestine, for one, has become more and more central to Asian American scholars, given their recognition of “the intersections among the violation of Palestinian rights, U.S. Cold War interventions and military occupations in Asia, Japanese American internment, and settler colonialism in Hawai’i” (with an acknowledgment of the complexity of the Hawaiian context in relation to Asian American studies).6 At the heart of such intersecting and relational struggles is a shared investment in battling racism, settler colonialism, and imperial cultures within but also well beyond the limits of the US nation-state.
In 2017, Moustafa Bayoumi reiterated his call for the inclusion of Muslim Americans and Arab Americans “under the umbrella of Asian American Studies,” a call “driven not primarily by a desire for recognition and inclusion but by a fundamental politics of transformation” that goes beyond what he calls “a geography of origins.”7 Furthermore, the need to expand and revisit the Asian American label is reflected in debates within the field regarding the place and role of South Asian communities, given the field’s historical focus on East Asians.8 These concerns coalesce with a rising recognition within Asian American studies of the need to connect the field to quickly developing antiracist coalitions that would reassert the “radical politics that undergirded its foundation” and “facilitate a prospective site of resistance and critique” not only for Asian American studies but ethnic and race studies more broadly.9
In 2018, the Asian American Studies Association announced its creation of a section on West Asian American studies, with the aim to “use the designation ‘West Asian American’ as an analytic to address questions of US imperialism, settler colonization, militarization, state-sanctioned violence, policing, migration, exile, resistance, and solidarity.” The authors state that “[r]ather than simply a geographic designation that expands the boundaries of Asian America, we consider this rubric an opening for ‘West Asian American critique.’” Moreover, the mission statement for this new category proclaims the following:
While the fields of Arab American, Middle Eastern diaspora, and critical Muslim studies have been burgeoning, we are aware that the labels used to designate these regions and communities (such as SWANA, MENA) are imperfect, and in trying to create an inclusive category, they are inevitably unwieldy or still exclude certain groups. So while we reject colonialist constructs such as “Middle Eastern,” we are deeply committed to solidarity with the transnational struggles of West, Central, and Southwest Asian peoples and to promoting critical, engaged scholarship that engages with a range of themes relevant to this field.10
In underscoring some of the interconnected histories of Asian Americans and Arab Americans, and in highlighting some thematic links between Arab American and Asian American literatures, this article highlights relational spaces in which a range of Arab and Asian outlooks and experiences in the United States are explored, thus drawing a direct link between and among different racialized communities. Such an approach defies the simplistic orientalist, racist, and Islamophobic lenses through which Arab, Muslim, and Asian communities are discussed and perceived, thus asserting the multiplicity, complexity, and fluidity of Arab and Asian experiences, realities, and histories in the United States and elsewhere. Such overlapping histories extend to the connections between the Chinese Exclusion Act and the more recent Arab and Muslim ban (which nevertheless has its roots in longer histories of exclusions and immigration restrictions), the Vietnam War and the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the incarceration of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, and the rounding up, interrogation, surveillance and deportation of Arab, South Asian, and Muslim Americans after 9/11.
Brief Overview of Arab American Literature
With its roots in the mahjar (immigrant) writers, a late-19th-century literary movement spearheaded by a group of writers of Lebanese and Syrian background based in New York, contemporary Arab American literature has been rapidly flourishing since the 1990s.11 The late 1960s to the 1980s marked a shift in Arab American literary output, with the sense of shame and nostalgia pervading Arab American autobiographical and biographical narratives of the earlier periods giving way to a growing sense of pride and interest among Arab American authors regarding their Arab heritage. This shift was shaped by various factors, including the far-reaching effects on the Arab diaspora of key political events and conflicts in the Arab world, including the Six-Day War (Yom Kippur War) in 1967, the Arab oil embargo in 1973, and the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. These events and others produced a sense of urgency among many Arab Americans to connect with their heritage and claim their Arab identities in a United States that was increasingly hostile toward them. Such a move among Arab American writers to reclaim their Arab backgrounds marked a solid advancement toward a full-blown burgeoning of Arab American literature from the 1990s onward, with a notable increase in the publication of novels, plays, poetry, and literary anthologies as well as Arab American literary criticism in the early decades of the 21st century.12
The 1990s were a significant decade in the flourishing of Arab American literature for several reasons. Many Arab American writers who either came of age or were born in the fraught political climate of the Arab world and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s started writing, publishing, and sharing their work during the 1990s. The rise in the number of Arab American literary texts during the 1990s coincided with increased US political and military involvement in the Arab world, which included Operation Desert Storm in 1991, as well as the US-brokered peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, which culminated in the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The development of an Arab American literary repertoire during this time coincided with, or even reflected, the increased demonization of Arabs and Muslims in the United States during this period. Such demonization is reflected in the backlash against Arabs and Muslims in the United States after the 1993 bombing of the US World Trade Center as well as during and after the First Gulf War, reaching severe levels after 9/11, when many Arabs and Muslims in the United States (and abroad) were, and continue to be, detained, deported, questioned, and harassed.
In this way, the quantity and quality of literary output by Arab American writers from the late 19th century up till the early 21st century closely reflect the factors and conditions that shape Arabs’ experiences in the United States, including immigration laws, the pressures of assimilation and discrimination, and the involvement of the United States in various wars and conflicts in the Middle East. Even while being shaped by the specificities of such geographical, historical, and political contexts, Arab American literature showcases an array of thematic foci and engagements that link it to other ethnic literary traditions, including Asian American literature. Such thematic connections extend to engagements with cultural and transnational in-betweenness, collective and individual marginalization and racialization, wars and conflicts in original home countries and their effects on US diasporic identities, transnational connections and movement across borders, food and cultural memory, language, gender roles, heritage, and religious expression, to name but a few. The rest of the article presents some major topics and themes prevalent in contemporary Arab American literature that exemplify its thematic intersections with Asian American literature. It should be noted, however, that many of these themes intersect and coexist in the same text or across a writer’s body of work, a function of the complex and multilayered perspectives presented in both Arab American and Asian American literatures.
Arab American and Asian American Literatures: Thematic Interconnections
Orientalism, Wars, Conflicts, and Refugee/Immigrant Life
The West’s binaristic and orientalist representations of the East have been analyzed in Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978). This seminal work has had long-lasting impact on both Arabs and Asians, whether in the diaspora or in their original home countries, affecting how they respond to orientalist depictions and rearticulate themselves in the process. As Leti Volpp writes in her essay “The Citizen and the Terrorist,” “American Orientalism historically referenced North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey, as well as East Asia. Collectively, and often indistinguishably, these regions have functioned as the ‘East’ to American’s democratic and progressive ‘West,’” serving as “phantasmic sites on which the U.S. nation projects a series of anxieties regarding internal and external threats to the coherence of the national body.”13
Volpp and others have stressed the importance of defining and understanding American orientalism as being contingent on as well as being shaped by US military engagements abroad (in this case the Middle East and Southeast Asia) and the concomitant policing of national borders. Orientalism delineates mainstream constructions and enactments of US citizenship and belonging and the positioning of minoritized and racialized identities in relation to such constructions. Even though the US started gaining significant political and economic power after World War II through its global neo-imperial agendas, the histories of American orientalism as experienced by both Arab and Asian communities in the United States extends well before the 1950s. For instance, orientalist outlooks directly shaped the US immigration policies that resulted in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act, which resulted in limiting or banning the entry of peoples from Asia and the Middle East into the United States. Even with the implementation of the 1965 Immigration Act, which abolished the quota system and allowed immigration from various countries in the Middle East and Asia, forms of orientalist exclusion remain. The US neo-imperialist agenda reached full-blown proportions after World War II and continues to have major repercussions on Arab, Muslim, and Asian communities in the United States. US-led wars in the Middle East and Asia, as well as US support of military conflicts and dictatorships in the area since the 1950s, have had particular impact on Arab and Asian experiences of migration, exile, and dispossession; their sense of US belonging is consistently challenged, given that they are constantly perceived by a mainstream as being “forever foreign.”14 Major crises during the post–World War II period that affected the migration patterns, treatment, and perception of communities of Arab and Asian backgrounds in the United States include the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, the Vietnam War beginning in the early 1960s till 1975, the Arab–Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, the 1970s Arab oil embargo, the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis, the Lebanese war from 1975 to 1990 and its aftermath, the First Gulf War in the early 1990s, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, respectively, and the subsequent drawn-out US-led wars in both countries, and the ongoing “war on terror.” The more recent Arab and Muslim travel ban, which aims to prohibit citizens from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, is a continuation of these long histories of American orientalism, racism, and neo-imperialism.
In this way, Arabs and Asians in the United States, whether as immigrants or descendants of immigrants, have found themselves in a nation that was often the perpetrator (or at least a major player) in the conflicts and wars back in their original home countries. A central theme that permeates Arab American and Asian American literary texts involves the depiction of military conflicts in original homelands (many of which are perpetrated and manipulated by the United States). Such depictions, some of which take place primarily in an original home country, while others go back and forth between an original homeland and the United States, emphasize the complex web of transnational links shaping the affective, material, legal, and political lives of immigrant and diasporic communities in the United States. The viewpoints, experiences, and perspectives presented in the works of Arab American and Asian American writers, however, are far from being uniform. These “diasporas of empire” are widely varied, encompassing different immigration pathways, histories, struggles, military and geopolitical conflicts, literary lineages, and artistic investments.15
The primary military and geopolitical conflicts featured in contemporary Arab American texts include the Lebanese War, the ongoing Palestinian crisis, and the shifting geopolitical terrains in Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, and Iraq.16 Even among Arab American texts that focus on a specific conflict, such as the Lebanese War (1975–1990), there is a range of perspectives and approaches to representing this conflict, underscoring the rich and multilayered forms of representation that typify Arab American literature. For example, Etel Adnan’s novel Sitt Marie Rose (1977), a foundational text in Arab American literature, focuses on the early years of the Lebanese War.17 The novel depicts the horrors of the conflict during that period and the real accounts that reached Adnan in Paris concerning the abduction and mistreatment (at the hands of a right-wing militia) of Marie-Rose Boulos, an acquaintance whom Adnan greatly respected for her leftist political beliefs. Adnan’s transnational perspective (reflected in her work as a whole, which includes poetry, plays, essays, and visual art) is integral to the outlook of other Arab American writers, as manifested in texts by Rabih Alameddine, Patricia Sarrafian Ward, Nada Awar Jarrar, and Evelyn Shakir that span the last three decades or so. Alameddine’s novels, for instance, including Koolaids: The Art of War (1998), I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters (2001), The Hakawati (2008), An Unnecessary Woman (2014), and The Angel of History (2016) portray characters negotiating the traumas of the Lebanese War as they are lived and remembered, both in the diaspora and in Lebanon. Along with the works of these writers, the poetry of Lawrence Joseph, Hayan Charara, Jessica Rizk, and Haas Mroue also portrays the experience of the Lebanese War in ways that bridge Lebanon and the US Arab diaspora, emphasizing the connections and continuities between these landscapes (politically, affectively, materially, and intellectually) despite the seemingly vast geographical and cultural distances that separate them.
The prevalent thematic focus on wars and conflicts in Arab home countries that permeates Arab American texts also centers prominently on the ongoing Palestinian Nakba, or the dispossession of Palestinian peoples of their homeland since the establishment of Israel in 1948. This focus is exemplified in the fiction of Susan Abulhawa, Randa Jarrar, Laila Halaby, and Susan Muaddi Darraj, the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye, Fady Joudah, Deema Shehabi, Lisa Suhair Majaj, and Remi Kanazi, memoirs and nonfiction by Edward Said and Ibtisam Barakat, and graphic novels by Leila Abdelrazaq and Marguerite Dabaie, to name a few. Even though these texts vary in their portrayal of and engagement with the Nakba, they all shed light on Palestinian experiences of dispossession, their lives as refugees and diasporics, or their negotiations of life in Palestine under Israeli occupation. At the heart of such depictions is a transnational vision that links the “here” of the United States with the “there” of Palestine, which many Palestinians (living in the United States or otherwise) cannot access or return to. This transnational vision ultimately widens the scope of US identities to integrate marginalized histories that speak of loss, trauma, and violence that has been perpetrated or aided by the United States. Engagements with more recent US-led wars in the Arab world are evident in the focus of Arab American writers on the Iraq War, including in the fiction, poetry, and drama of writers such as Sinan Antoon, Dunya Mikhail, Weam Namou, Deborah Al-Najjar, and Heather Raffo. Moreover, portrayals of the war in Syria, its catastrophic effects on the Syrian population, and the resulting refugee crisis is evident in Alia Malek’s memoir The Home That Was Our Country (2018), which chronicles the writer’s return to Damascus to claim her grandmother’s apartment at the beginning of the Arab Spring. Zeyn Joukhadar’s debut novel The Map of Salt and Tears (2018) also depicts the return of the Syrian American protagonist Nour to her family’s native Syria, only to face the onslaught of the Syrian war. Nour’s experience of contemporary Syria is interwoven with another story in the book of Rawiya, a 12th-century girl passing as a boy to apprentice with a mapmaker during his exploratory travels in the present-day region of North Africa and the Levant.
At the heart of these Arab American works depicting the United States as a site of immigrant, refugee, and diasporic negotiations is a transnational outlook that constantly connects and interlinks seemingly separate spheres of belonging and citizenship. Randa Jarrar’s debut novel A Map of Home (2009), for instance, straddles multiple locations, including Kuwait City, Alexandria, Jenin, and Houston, while Rabih Alameddine’s characters constantly move back and forth between the United States and Lebanon.18
Asian American literature also features representations and themes echoing these Arab American stances of grappling with homeland wars and a sense of loss and in-betweenness. For instance, various Vietnamese American writers focus on the ways in which the Vietnam War and its traumas have and continue to be negotiated from within the Vietnamese diaspora. The effects of that war on transnational diasporic communities are evident in the work of Vietnamese American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Sympathizer (2015), which takes place between Vietnam (after the fall of Saigon) and Los Angeles, and the collection of short stories The Refugees (2017), set in both Vietnam and America, which portrays the transnational lives of Vietnamese characters living in between two places.19 The transnational is also central in earlier works by other writers such as Lan Cao, who in her novels Monkey Bridge (1997) and The Lotus and the Storm (2014) delves into the intricacies of life between the two worlds of Vietnam and the United States, depicting the difficulties of refugee status and the sense of alienation that this entails.20
Other Vietnamese American writers’ depictions of transnational and refugee Vietnamese experiences after the Vietnam War include Thi Bui’s graphic novel The Best We Could Do (2018), which portrays her family’s journey to the United States after the war and the challenges they faced as newly arrived refugees, as well as Night Sky With Exit Wounds (2016) by poet Ocean Vuong, who arrived in the United States as a refugee in 1990. The long-lasting impact of traumas enacted by political and military conflicts and oppressions in Arab and Asian countries (leading to migration, uprootedness, and alienation) and reverberating across multiple generations in the diaspora is made evident in other foundational Asian American texts such as Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1975), alongside more recent texts such as Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart (2017). Many of these texts, drawing on various Chinese mythological figures and immigrant experiences and narratives, move back and forth between China and the United States chronicling the realities and the aftermath of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
In this way, tracing the interconnections between Arab American and Asian American literatures helps showcase the conundrums of being American while also feeling a sense of transnational belonging to an original homeland that is at best politically at odds with, or at worst the target of, US military invasions and interventions. This conundrum brings with it the added burden and responsibility shared by a majority of Arab American and Asian American writers: of countering, through their cultural production and their role as community spokespersons, the negative and racist portrayals of their individual, communal, religious, national, and cultural backgrounds by a mainstream US media.
The movement of diasporic and refugee populations from areas of conflict in Asia and the Arab world is, however, far from being uniform or always directed at the United States. The multidirectionality of refugee, immigrant, and diasporic trajectories is exemplified in the work of Arab American writers such as Laila Lalami, whose Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005) follows the journey of four Moroccan characters fleeing Morocco and crossing the Strait of Gibraltar on a boat to seek asylum in Spain. Moreover, as exemplified in Lalami’s novel and other works such as Cairo House (2000) by Samia Serageldin; Secret Son (2009) by Lalami; The Vagrants (2009) by Yiyun Li; In the Country of Men and Anatomy of a Disappearance (2006) by Hisham Matar; and Si Yussef (1992) by Anouar Majid, experiences in the home countries (or movement among different countries within the Arab world and Asia) provide a central focus in many Arab American and Asian American literary texts, rather than the physical landscape of the United States. Though the United States is physically tangential or altogether absent, it nevertheless remains very much present in its ideological, military, and imperial influence in these texts.
Ostracization, Alienation, Discrimination, and Literatures of Crises
Leading a transnational life (whether involving physical mobility between two or more countries or imaginative and affective re-creations of original homelands within the diaspora) is often a source of alienation, discrimination, and ostracization in the United States. In addition to contending with the difficulties of immigration and displacement, Arab and Asian communities in the United States have and continue to face the additional challenges of being perceived as antithetical to mainstream constructions of American identity. The dual sense of belonging that emanates from transnational connections to original homelands, particularly Arab and Asian countries that are branded in the US national imaginary as alien or enemy territories, becomes a primary cause for questioning the allegiance of these immigrant, refugee, and diasporic communities to the United States, compromising their civil rights and access to just treatment. Individual and communal experiences of marginalization and alienation are often evident in Arab American and Asian American literature from the late 19th century on. In many of these works, the pressures of assimilation and the push to erase ethnic, cultural, and political differences in the name of upholding the model minority myth and the good Arab/Muslim label are central and recurrent themes. Such works of cultural alienation include Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies (1999) and The Namesake (2003), Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006) and E-mails from Scheherazad (2003), Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel (2010), Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker (1995), Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart: A Personal History (1943), Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (2006), D. H. Melhem’s Rest in Love (1975), Evelyn Shakir’s Remember Me To Lebanon: Stories of Lebanese Women in America (2007), Lalami’s The Other Americans (2019), and Bao Phi’s Thousand Star Hotel (2017).
Even though such alienation has been systemic and consistent since the first waves of Arab and Asian immigrants started arriving in the United States, it has reached extremes in the aftermath of specific historical and political events, most notably Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Important resonances exist between these two historical moments, particularly in terms of the subsequent treatment of Asian, Arab, and Muslim communities in the United States. At both times, these communities came under extreme scrutiny, leading to Japanese American incarceration during World War II as well as the interrogation, stripping of civil rights, and deportation of large numbers of people of Asian, Arab, and Muslim backgrounds. Even though the demonization and ostracization of Asians and Arabs well exceeds these particular moments, the post–Pearl Harbor and the post-9/11 periods become pronounced examples of long-standing legal, political, and economic measures taken against Asian American and Arab American communities and the far-reaching effects of these measures. In this way, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order 9066 (which led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans and their eviction from the West Coast in 1942) can be seen as an earlier iteration of the same racial and imperial logics that got solidified with the implementation of US domestic and foreign policies after 9/11 (e.g., the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Entry–Exit Registration System, the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Muslim and Arab ban), which have resulted in the surveillance, containment, and criminalization of Arab and Muslim Americans (as well as other communities perceived to be Arab or Muslim).
The deeply traumatic effects of governmental and social backlash, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia targeting Asians, Arabs, and Muslims continue to resonate across, between, and within these communities. The literary and cultural output that responds to and represents such traumas might be understood as a literature of crisis. The backlash against Arabs and Muslims in the United States after 9/11 is portrayed in novels like Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land (2007), Alia Yunis’s The Night Counter (2009), and Frances Noble’s The New Belly Dancer of the Galaxy (2007). This backlash is also represented in plays such as Yussef El Guindi’s Back of the Throat (2010); poetry by Suheir Hammad, Mohja Kahf, Hayan Charara, Samuel Hazo, and D. H. Melhem; short stories by Randa Jarrar, Joseph Geha, Evelyn Shakir, Amani Elkassabani, Gergory Orfealea; and Samia Serageldin, as well as nonfiction such as Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America (2008), and This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror (2015). Poets such as Philip Metres (in works including Sand Opera ) have addressed in their work the horrors of the US “war on terror” and its detrimental effects on Arabs and Muslims, whether in the United States or the Arab world. Metres’s poetry poignantly captures the voices of Arab and Muslim men detained and tortured in US-led sites of incarceration such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The content and thematic underpinnings of these post-9/11-focused works are not completely novel, for they also portray how Arabs and Muslims contend with long histories of discrimination and trauma, albeit in the more specific and defined political moment of post-9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror.” But such literary and cultural responses do not merely typify the work of Arab American writers immediately following 9/11 and its aftermath; they continue to act as commitments to address and portray longer histories of inequality, discrimination, and communal trauma.
Both immediate responses to and lengthy engagements with the trauma inflicted on racialized and minoritized communities in the United States are also addressed in Asian American writing on Japanese American incarceration, such as Hisaye Yamamoto’s Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories (1988); John Okada’s No-No Boy (1976); Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Divine (2002); and Mitsuye Yamada’s Camp Notes and Other Writings (1976). Many of these works not only focus on the actual experiences of internment but also address its lingering effects across different generations. This kind of investment lays bare the necessity to underscore the perpetual precarity of Asian American citizenship and the vulnerability of Asian Americans once they reject or overstep the restrictive boundaries of the model minority framework and cross over into designation as enemy aliens. Moreover, acknowledging such histories in light of the struggles and demonization of other communities, such as Arab Americans, in different historical moments is of paramount importance. Such acknowledgment underscores that the same logics of racism inform the internment, detention, and deportation of racialized communities in seemingly separate and different political and historical moments. It also highlights the shared and intersecting histories of trauma and violence exacted on these communities by the US nation-state and the conflation of these ethnic and racial minorities into an indistinguishable whole. For instance, understanding that South Asians, particularly Hindus and Sikhs, were the victims of anti-Arab and Islamophobic racism after 9/11 (given that they were conflated with Arabs and Muslims) becomes a way to link together seemingly different histories of racism within the United States. Such awareness helps to mobilize Asian, Arab, and Muslim communities under common banners of solidarity and alliance in the face of state violence and racism, even while recognizing the distinctive and specific histories and experiences within and across these communities. Various South Asian American writers have directly addressed the impact of 9/11 on the lives of Muslims, Arabs, and Asians in the United States, including Mohsin Hamid in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) and Kamila Shamsie in Burnt Shadows (2009). Both books portray the racialization (and radicalization) of male Muslim protagonists within transnational and global narrative frameworks. In Burnt Shadows, for one, different historical periods (including the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the partition of India in 1947) make up the multiple threads of the novel’s narrative, thus connecting the post-9/11 moment to broader geopolitical landscapes and historical junctures that extend well beyond the United States at the turn of the 21st century.
Intergenerational Negotiations, the Politics of Food, and Feminist Coalitional Discourse
The constant navigation of a hostile and xenophobic US landscape by racialized and minoritized peoples (after but also well before 9/11) is often concomitant with different generational outlooks within and across immigrant, refugee, and diasporic Asian American and Arab American communities. This theme recurs in both Arab American and Asian American literary texts, highlighting not only the tensions, gaps, and connective links among different generations, but also the centrality of familial histories and communal negotiations in literary and cultural portrayals of Asian and Arab experiences in the United States. Various texts by Arab American and Asian American writers explore how second- and third-generation Arab and Asian Americans (as well as subsequent generations) navigate the pressures of assimilation and cultural citizenship mandated by a mainstream US culture, while simultaneously contending with the expectations of staying connected to, and observant of, home countries and cultures as expected (and enforced) by immigrant or refugee parents/grandparents, among others. Such intergenerational struggles and challenges are evident in texts such as Susan Muaddi Darraj’s The Inheritance of Exile (2007), written from the perspective of four Arab American women and their mothers; Alia Yunis’s The Night Counter, which chronicles the scattered lives of an Arab family in the United States and the relationship of the second and third generation with their parents and grandparents; and Diana Abu-Jaber’s novel Arabian Jazz (1993), which depicts the experiences of first-generation Arab American Matussem Ramoud, his sister Fatima, and his US-born daughters Melvina and Jemorah. Abu-Jaber’s depiction of Matussem and Fatima’s memories of Jordan marks a break in representations of Arab American lives that go beyond the nostalgic celebrations of original homelands and immigrant assimilation that were prevalent among some Arab American writers earlier in the 20th century. Other Arab American writers whose work features such intergenerational struggles and connections (as well as the material and imaginative effects of an Arab homeland on immigrants, their children, and grandchildren) include Naomi Shihab Nye’s Words Under the Words (1995), Lawrence Joseph’s Curriculum Vitae (1988), Joseph Geha’s Lebanese Blonde (2012), Thérèse Soukar Chehade’s Loom (2010), and Angela Tehaan Leone’s Swimming Toward the Light (2007). In many of these works, the reverberating effects of Arab homelands permeate the lives of the Arab American characters. Memories of these homelands are handed down to these characters through their parents and grandparents and in many cases become fixed impressions for second- and third-generation Arab Americans who do not have direct access to original Arab countries. Through these works, the United States is transformed into a place in which a complex negotiation of nonassimilative forms of Arab American identities is enacted.
Similar forms of intergenerational negotiations permeate Asian American texts, whereby second- and third-generation Asian American characters constantly feel torn (mentally, physically, and emotionally) between expected or mandated US mainstream values (such as assimilation, patriotism, docile citizenship) and the affirmation of familial, cultural, and historical ties to their Asian backgrounds. Such generational differences and expectations among Asian Americans are manifest, for instance, in the different generational designations among Japanese Americans: with Issei being used to reference the first generation of Japanese in the United States, Nisei the second generation, and Sansei the third generation (or the grandchildren of Japanese-born immigrants). Generational differences in relation to moments of national crisis, such as Pearl Harbor and Japanese American incarceration, is exemplified in works such as Monica Sone’s fictionalized autobiography Nisei Daughter (1953), Mine Okubo’s earlier graphic memoir Citizen 13660 (1946), and John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957). Other Asian American texts take up the subject of intergenerational struggles, particularly focusing on how they play out between the immigrant generation and their children, with a specific emphasis on how gender plays a role in maintaining/affirming cultural and ethnic continuities or differences across generational divides.
Just as various Arab American works emphasize the role of immigrant Arab women and their role of safeguarding Arab cultures in the diaspora, so are mother–daughter relations central in Asian American literature, including the key works Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989). In both, second-generation Chinese American women have to contend with their immigrant mothers and with the legacies and gender roles they inherited from them. Such tensions are also evident in the work of other Asian American writers, including Gish Jen’s short story collection Who’s Irish (1999), as well as Fae Myenne Ng’s novel Bone (1993) and Lisa Ko’s novel The Leavers (2017). These works portray intergenerational (as well as intragenerational) tensions alongside the challenges faced by characters as they navigate and contend with mainstream US culture. Often the end result of both internal and external conflicts and negotiation is the forging of new landscapes and horizons of belonging that extend beyond the binaristic choices of assimilation and the so-called authentic ethnic or cultural identity.
A central figure in Arab American texts remains that of the grandmother, who often dominates the ways in which US-born Arab Americans access Arab cultures. This character enacts specific gendered performances that often include producing and consuming food as a way to maintain the memories of Arab homelands. Such a focus is exemplified in one of the first Arab American literary anthologies, aptly titled Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists, edited by Joe Kadi. In the introduction, Kadi acknowledges the roles that diasporic Arab grandmothers play in maintaining the continuity of an Arab cultural heritage in the diaspora, stating that the anthology is a way to “give something back to these women.”21 While emphasizing food production as a major site of gendered cultural performance, Kadi widens that framework to place these women’s labors in a broader sphere of diasporic cultural production. The metaphor of food still permeates Arab American literature, and even though grandmothers and mothers remain central to Arab American access to original home countries (as suggested in the works of Therese Saliba, Alia Yunis, Kadi, David Williams, and D. H. Melhem), the memories and knowledge of father figures also act as conduits for accessing Arab cultures in the diaspora. For instance, Diana Abu-Jaber’s second novel Crescent (2003) features the second-generation Iraqi American Sirine, a chef at a Middle Eastern café who cooks a rich medley of the Arabic dishes she had learned from her Iraqi father. Abu-Jaber’s memoirs The Language of Baklava (2005) and Life Without a Recipe (2016), which draw on her memories growing up between upstate New York and Jordan, also reference the (re)enactment of Arab cultures through the production and consumption of food. This strategy is similar to that used in many works by Asian American writers, such as Bich Minh Nguyen’s Stealing Buddha’s Dinner (2007), Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2003), Kim Sunee’s Trail of Crumbs (2008), and Linda Furiya’s Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America (2006). The prevalence of the theme of food production and consumption in both Arab American and Asian American texts becomes a way to navigate landscapes of exile and diaspora, subjectivity, and place. Again, these works often express a state of in-betweenness that signals neither assimilated nor so-called authentic identities but rather those that affirm the complexity and multiplicity of diasporic formations, especially when examined through the critical lenses of feminist, antiracist, and anti-imperialist paradigms.22
These critical perspectives have shaped Asian, Arab, and Muslim American activism, scholarship, and cultural output in fundamental ways, specifically in the ways Asian, Arab, and Muslim American feminists highlight the intersections of anti-imperial and antiracist stances locally, nationally, and transnationally. Intersectional stances are made evident, for instance, in the edited collection Arab and Arab American Feminisms, which, according to the editors, “builds on radical U.S. women of color’s visions of the world that argue that the experiences of U.S. women of color should not be subsumed within the conventional dichotomies of either racism or sexism but must be seen as simultaneous.”23 This commitment to fighting patriarchy and racism simultaneously echoes a similar concern among Asian American feminists. In her introduction to the collection of feminist writings Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire, Sonia Shah disrupts the hierarchical placement of race above gender, stating that “the reason to talk about Asian American women as a single group is because we all share the same rung on the racial hierarchy and the gender hierarchy”:
It is not that our lives are so similar in substance, but that our lives are all monumentally shaped by the major driving forces in U.S. society: racism and patriarchy most immediately, and ultimately, imperial aggression against Asia as well. As long as those systems of distributing and exercising power continue to exist, it will continue to make sense to talk about Asian American women as a group (as well as other racial and gender groups).24
In this way, the same strategic categorization of Arab and Asian women, through the lens of interconnections and relationality (despite their heterogeneous and widely varied backgrounds) remains necessary as long as they remain circumscribed, alongside other sexualized and racialized US feminists and queers of color, by racial, patriarchal, and imperial structures. The strategic adherence to such general categorizations is contingent on simultaneously highlighting and upholding strategies of self-representation and self-definition that disrupt and push against homogenizing structures, laying bare their limitations and violence.25 Such strategies are evident in literary texts such as Mohja Kahf’s novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf and her poetry collections E-mails from Scheherazad and Hagar Poems (2016), as well as David Hwang’s M. Butterfly (1989) and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. Texts such as these lay bare the limitations of the dominant lenses of orientalism and Islamophobia through which Arabs and Asians are represented in mainstream US culture. At the same time, Asian and Arab feminist writers and scholars must also push against patriarchal and racial structures of violence within their own communities, so much so that they have to contest such structures and biases on multiple and intersecting levels.26
With these concurrent and overlapping histories of Asian Americans and Arab Americans and their ongoing struggles against hegemonic cultures, literary and cultural production then becomes a main site for the interrogation and critique as well as the production of antiorientalist, antiracist, and anti-Islamophobic forms of knowledge and representation about and by Arab Americans and Asian Americans. Such relational readings draw out the interconnections of these identity categories while attending to the specificities that shape the experiences and histories of these minoritized and racialized groups.27 In this way, developing radical, anticorrective knowledges about communities of color based on a relational analysis requires acknowledgment of how the same tropes of visibility/hypervisibility, docile citizenship, political targeting, and sexist and racist representations are embodied and experienced differently, based on the subject’s positionality within the larger framework of US empire and Western hegemony. At the same time, however, the simultaneous and intersecting structures of patriarchy, imperialism, and racism shared by Arab, Muslim, and Asian communities is well worth underscoring, with a full acknowledgment that these communities occupy different positions along these structural axes. The end result of this endeavor emphasizes the nuances of relational, solidarity-based, transnational, and cross-racial frameworks rather than collapsing identities into homogenous entities.
Discussion of the Literature
Even though Arab American literature has a long history in the United States, dating back to the first wave of immigration from the Arab world, scholarship in the field did not fully develop till the final two decades of the 20th century, with an increase from the early 2000s onward. The rise during this period in the number of books, essays, and special journal issues that focused on Arab American literature is a testament to the increased rate at which literary texts by Arab American writers were being published starting in the early 1990s, as compared to earlier decades. This surge in literary texts and critical scholarship in the field built on important historical as well as sociological and ethnographic studies on Arab American immigrant communities that were published during the 1980s. Some of these studies include Sameer Y. Abraham and Nabeel Abraham’s edited collection Arabs in the New World: Studies on Arab-American Communities, Alixa Naff’s Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience, and Gregory Orfalea’s Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab Americans. A new wave of historical and sociological studies was published during the 1990s, including works such as Michael Suleiman’s edited collection Arabs in America: Building a New Future. Moreover, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the publication of groundbreaking Arab American literary anthologies such as Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry, Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists, and Post-Gibran: Anthology of New Arab American Writing, pointing to strong investments in defining and delineating Arab American literature during these formative decades. Since the first decade of the 21st century, more and more scholarly texts on Arab American literature have been published, including books, edited collections, special issues, books chapters, and journal articles. Some key discussions in the field involve key questions on how to position Arab American literary and cultural production within the Arab and US national contexts: Should Arab American works be regarded as diasporic extensions of Arab literature? Or should they be studied within the framework of a US ethnic literary tradition? Some scholars and writers situate Arab American literary texts within the broader literary category of Anglophone literature, with an eye toward the specific national contexts from which they emerge.28 Others focus on the inherent American qualities and influences of Arab American literary and cultural production and the ways in which they are embedded in the lives and perspectives of ethnic, immigrant, and racialized Arab American minorities with strong ties to original Arab homelands.29
More and more scholars are exploring the interconnections between literary and cultural production by Arab Americans and other writers and artists of color. Therí Pickens, Sirène Harb, Michelle Hartman, and Keith Feldman, for instance, delineate literary lineages connecting Arabs and Muslims to African American feminist and antiracist stances.30 Moreover, explorations of the intersections of Arab American and Asian American literatures and cultures are featured in the special issue of Amerasia Journal, titled “Arab/Americas: Locations and Iterations.”
Similar to Arab American literature, Asian American literature serves as an umbrella term to encompass a wide range of national, religious, and ethnic affiliations, including Chinese American, Korean American, Japanese American, Vietnamese American, or Indian American. Lisa Lowe, for one, has emphasized the multiplicity of Asian American cultural formations in her book Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Other scholars such as David Palumbo-Liu, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Kandice Chuh, and David Eng affirm this multiplicity, deploying antiorientalist, feminist, and queer theoretical frames at the intersections of critical race and ethnic studies on the one hand and area studies on the other. As in the case of Arab American literature, anthologies have played a major part in delineating and asserting the contours of Asian American literature, with some earlier anthologies published during the 1970s reflecting Asian Americans’ need to define themselves (as Asian Americans) within the US ethnic and political landscape of the 1960s and 1970s. Such anthologies include the groundbreaking Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers, which was preceded by Asian-American Authors and Asian-American Heritage: An Anthology. The role of these anthologies and the scholarship that informs them is to claim and reclaim Asian American writers and literary texts dating back to the 19th century in ways that push back against the stereotypes and racist cultural narratives that have pervaded the US discourse since the arrival of the first Asian immigrants starting from the late 18th-century onward. In addition to asserting the heterogeneity and multiplicity of Asian American literature, scholarship in the field has also addressed the fraught question of what in fact “counts” as Asian American literature and whether or not the identity of the author or literary content of the text should exclusively determine such categorizations. Jennifer Ho argues that
opening up Asian American literature and literary study to racially ambiguous works, to transgressive texts, helps to decouple the body of the author from the body of knowledge found in the literary work and to legitimate and make legible the Asian American subject matter that pushes beyond questions of authenticity or identity politics.31
This stance of course challenges earlier scholarly attempts to clearly delineate the boundaries and content of the field, with scholars such as Frank Chin infamously outlining such criteria in his introduction to the 1991 anthology The Big Aiiieeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature. The revisionary approaches espoused by scholars such as Ho, which echo similar debates and interventions in Arab American literary scholarship, become integral to the constant reformulation and reassessment of these constantly shifting fields. Some of the same concerns have been raised in relation to Arab American literature, foregrounding the need for and the limitations of establishing certain criteria to determine what makes a certain text or a writer “Arab American.” One question that arises from such discussions is, “Does anything written by an Arab-American qualify per se, or is ‘Arab-American writing’ restricted to Arab-American themes?” (Majaj, “Of Stories and Storytellers”).32 Echoing Ho’s stance, it has been argued elsewhere that the criteria for determining what constitutes an Arab American literary text “should remain as flexible as possible to avoid replicating the exclusionary methods that have and continue to relegate minority voices to the peripheries of US literatures and cultures.”33
- Abdelrazek, Amal Talaat. Contemporary Arab American Women Writers: Hyphenated Identities and Border Crossings. Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press, 2007.
- Al Maleh, Layla, ed. Arab Voices in Diaspora: Critical Perspectives on Anglophone Arab Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.
- Chu, Patricia P. Assimilating Asians: Gendered Strategies of Authorship in Asian America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.
- Chuh, Kandice. Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.
- Eng, David. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.
- Fadda-Conrey, Carol. “Arab-American Literature in the Ethnic Borderland: Cultural Intersections in Diana Abu-Jaber’s Crescent.” In Special Issue: Arab American Literature. MELUS 31, no. 4 (2006): 187–205.
- Gana, Nouri, ed. The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English: The Politics of Anglo Arab and Arab American Literature and Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013.
- Hassan, Waïl. Immigrant Narratives: Orientalism and Cultural Translation in Arab American and Arab British Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Hout, Syrine C. Post-War Anglophone Lebanese Fiction: Home Matters in the Diaspora. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
- Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.
- Majaj, Lisa Suhair. “Arab-American Ethnicity: Locations, Coalitions and Cultural Negotiations.” In Arabs in America: Building a New Future, edited by Michael Suleiman, 320–336. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.
- Majaj, Lisa Suhair. “Arab American Literature and the Politics of Memory.” In Memory and Cultural Politics: New Approaches to American Ethnic Literatures, edited by Amritjit Singh, Joseph T. Skerret Jr., and Robert E. Hogan, 266–290. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996.
- Nash, Geoffrey. The Anglo-Arab Encounter: Fiction and Autobiography by Arab Writers in English. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2007.
- Nguyen, Viet Thanh. Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- David Palumbo-Liu. Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.
- Pickens, Therí A. New Body Politics: Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States. New York: Routledge, 2014.
- Salaita, Steven. Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
- Salaita, Steven. Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011.
1. Sunaina Maira and Magid Shihade, “Thinking Race, Empire, and Zionism in the U.S.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9, no. 2 (2006): 125.
2. Maira and Shihade, “Thinking Race,” 119–120.
3. Maira and Shihade, “Thinking Race,” 118.
4. Nadine Naber, “So Our History Doesn’t Become Your Future: The Local and Global Politics of Coalition Building Post September 11th,” Journal of Asian American Studies 5, no. 3 (2002): 217–242.
5. Sarah M. A. Gualtieri, and Pauline Homsi Vinson, eds., “Arab/Americas: Locations and Iterations,” Amerasia Journal 44, no. 1 (2018): viii. Incorporated in this section are some of the points made in the essay “Arab, Asian, and Muslim Feminist Dissent: Responding to the ‘Global War on Terror’ in Relational Frameworks,” which appeared in this special issue of Amerasia. See the full essay for a discussion of the role of literary and cultural texts in building cross-racial coalitions and overlapping Arab, Asian, and Muslim racial formations.
6. Rajini Srikanth, “Asian American Studies and Palestine: The Accidental and Reluctant Pioneer,” in Flashpoints For Asian American Studies, ed. Cathy Schlund-Vials (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018), 132. In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) was the first academic organization to adopt the Boycott and Divestment Sanctions resolution. Other engagements with Palestine include the special issue that Amerasia Journal published in 2005 on Edward Said and orientalism. For an exploration of Asian American activists’ work on Palestinian rights in the 1960s and 1970s, see Junaid Rana and Diane C. Fujino’s essay “Taking Risks, or the Question of Palestine Solidarity and Asian American Studies,” American Quarterly 67, no. 4 (2015): 1033.
7. Moustafa Bayoumi, “Asian American Studies, the War on Terror, and the Changing University,” in Asian American Matters: A New York Anthology, ed. Russell C. Leong (New York: Asian American and Asian Research Institute, 2017), 22 and 23. The need for such engagements and for forging connective analyses between Asian American and Arab American studies was articulated as early as 1994 by Bayoumi at the AAAS conference in his talk, “Is There An ‘A’ for Arab in Asian American Studies?” For further discussions of the relations between Asian American and Arab American studies, see Bayoumi’s “Our Work is of this World,” Amerasia 31, no. 1 (2005): 8; and “Staying Put: Aboriginal Rights, the Question of Palestine, and Asian American Studies.” Amerasia 29, no. 2 (2003): 222.
8. Nazli Kibria, for one, asserts South Asians’ racial marginality within the Asian American category, stating: “Within Asian American academic and political circles, South Asians tend to feel like outsiders, in ways that are somewhat similar to the experiences of Southeast Asians and Filipinos.” See Amerasia Journal 22, no. 2 (1996): 77–86. See also Prema Kurien’s essay, “Who are Asian Americans?” in Asian American Matters: A New York Anthology, 25–28.
9. Cathy Schlund-Vials, “Introduction: Crisis, Conundrum, and Critique,” in Flashpoints For Asian American Studies, ed. Cathy Schlund-Vials (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018): 4, 5.
10. Mission Statement, e-mail message. April 26, 2018.
11. These literary figures wrote in both English and Arabic and include names such as Gibran Khalil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, Mikhael Naimy, and Elia Abu Madi, among others. In 1920, Gibran established in New York the literary collective Al-Rābiṭa al-Qalamiyya (the Pen League), which dissolved with his death and the return of other members to their Arab homelands; Arab American literary critic Evelyn Shakir identifies “three distinct stages” in the development of Arab American literature,” which roughly coincide with the three waves of Arab American immigration. The “early” stage extends between 1900 and 1920, the “middle” stage spans the 1930s to the 1960s, and the third (or recent) stage starts in the 1970s and extends into the present. See Shakir, “Arab-American Literature,” in New Immigrant Literatures in the United States: A Sourcebook to our Multicultural Literary Heritage, ed. Alpana Sharma Knippling (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), 3. There are currently around 3.6 million Arab Americans in the United States, with origins in the twenty-two countries of the Arab League and linked through shared cultural and linguistic outlooks. Arab immigration to the United States started in the late 19th century and is divided into roughly three phases: the first extends from the 1880s to 1924, the year the Immigration Quota Act was passed, which limited the number of immigrants to the United States based on their nationality. The end of World War II and the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 heralded the second wave of Arab immigration, which lasted until 1967, the year of the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab countries. The third phase, facilitated by the passing of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, extends to the current period.
12. For a discussion of a range of Arab American literary texts published from the 1990s onward, see Carol Fadda-Conrey’s book Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging (New York: New York University Press, 2014).
13. Leti Volpp, “The Citizen and the Terrorist,” in September 11 in History: A Watershed Moment?, ed. Mary L. Dudziak (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 147–162, 152, 153.
14. Ella Shohat, “Gendered Cartographies of Knowledge: Area Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Postcolonial Studies,” in Taboo Memories: Diasporic Voices, ed. Ella Shohat (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 6.
15. Nadine Naber, Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 60. Moreover, the transnational perspectives featured in Arab American and Asian American texts vary widely. For while some Arab Americans and Asian American have never been to an original homeland or cannot return to these homelands due to the conditions of war and occupation, others either grew up in these homelands and then immigrated to the United States or return home for short-term visits.
16. See chapter 2 of Steven Salaita’s book, Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
17. It was originally written in French, translated into Arabic in 1978, and not published into English until 1982.
18. Such a transnational outlook portrayed in Arab American and Asian American texts well precede the contemporary period, with texts by writers dating back to the end of the 19th/early 20th century, underscoring the strong and enduring physical as well as emotional links that connect Arab and Asian immigrants to their original countries. Such earlier examples include the works of mahjar writers such as Gibran Khalil Gibran and Ameen Rihani, as well as Sui Sin Far’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912).
19. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s nonfiction works include the edited collection of essays The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives (2018); and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016).
20. For an analysis of the lasting impact of the Vietnam War on Asian American refugee experiences in the United States, see Yen Le Espiritu’s Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); and Looking Back on the Vietnam War, ed. Brenda M. Boyle and Jeehyun Lim (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016).
21. See p. xx.
22. See Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996) for a further discussion of Asian American cultural production.
23. Rabab Abdulahdi, Evelyn Alsultany, and Nadine Naber, “Arab and Arab American Feminisms: An Introduction,” in Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging, ed. Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany, and Nadine Naber (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2010), xxv. It is still important to note, however, that the history of Arab American feminism in relation to other feminist and queer communities of color has not been an easy one, with Arab American feminists noting their continued struggles of being excluded and silenced, even at the hands of other women of color. See Nada Elia’s “The ‘White’ Sheep of the Family,” in This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. ed. Gloria E. Anzaldúa and Analouise Keating (New York: Routledge, 2002): 223–231.
24. See p. xiii.
25. See also the work of Yuri Kochiyama (Passing It On [Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Press, 2004]), and Grace Lee Boggs (Living for Change [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998]) for examples of cross-racial coalitions.
26. See, for example, Frank Chin’s critique of Maxine Hong Kingston’s work, especially in relation to issues of cultural authenticity in his essay “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake” (1991). Issues of authenticity have also been part of debates about the politics of Arab American representation and what constitutes Arab American literature. Alicia Erian has been criticized for reproducing stereotypical representations of Arab Americans in Towelhead (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), while writer Mona Simpson has not been central to Arab American literary discussions, mainly due to the fact that most of her novels do not engage with Arab or Arab American themes and that she herself does not self-identify as an Arab American.
27. In her essay “Arab American Feminisms: Mobilizing the Politics of Invisibility,” Amira Jarmakani develops her analysis of what she refers to as “the politics of invisibility” in light of the Japanese American feminist Mitsuye Yamada’s reflections on Asian American women’s “double invisibility,” published in the groundbreaking 1981 anthology This Bridge Called My Back (Jarmakani, pp. 236, 71, 37). Stating that, like Yamada in relation to her Asian American identity, she feels compelled to always “start from scratch” in writing about Arab women’s experiences, Jarmakani develops a correlation between visibility and hypervisibility that is essential for the perpetuation of stereotypes (p. 236). To counter such reductive and limiting representations, and to circumvent the forever starting from scratch impulse, Jarmakani turns to Chela Sandoval’s theory of “oppositional consciousness.” See Jarmakani’s essay in Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging, ed. Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany, and Nadine Naber (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2010): 227–241.
28. See Geoffrey Nash’s The Anglo-Arab Encounter: Fiction and Autobiography by Arab Writers in English; Layla Al Maleh’s edited collection Arab Voices in Diaspora: Critical Perspectives on Anglophone Arab Literature; Nouri Gana’s The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English: The Politics of Anglo Arab and Arab American Literature and Culture; and Syrine Hout’s Post-War Anglophone Lebanese Fiction: Home Matters in the Diaspora.
29. See Steven Salaita’s Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics, Waïl Hassan’s Immigrant Narratives: Orientalism and Cultural Translation in Arab American and Arab British Literature, Lisa Suhair Majaj’s essays such as “Arab American Literature and the Politics of Memory,” and Carol Fadda-Conrey’s Contemporary Arab-American Literature.
30. See Sirène Harb, “Naming Oppressions: Representing Empowerment: June Jordan’s and Suheir Hammad’s Poetic Projects,” Feminist Formations 26, no. 3 (2014): 71–99; Michelle Hartman, “‘A Debke Beat Funky as P. E.’s Riff’: Hip Hop Poetry and Politics in Suheir Hammad’s Born Palestinian, Born Black,” Black Arts Quarterly 7, no. 1 (2002): 6–8; Michelle Hartman, “‘This Sweet/Sweet Music’: Jazz, Sam Cooke, and Reading Arab American Literary Identities,” MELUS 31, no. 4 (2006): 145–165; Michelle Hartman, Breaking Broken English: Black-Arab Literary Solidarities and the Politics of Language (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2019); Therí A. Pickens, New Body Politics: Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States (New York: Routledge, 2014); and Keith Feldman, A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
31. Jennifer Ann Ho, Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 141.
32. Lisa Suhair Majaj, “Of Stories and Storytellers,” Saudi Aramco World 56, no. 2 (2005): 30. See also Salaita, Arab American Literary Fictions, 25.
33. Fadda-Conrey, Contemporary Arab-American Literature, 24.